The word that keeps coming through recently is “tender.” It’s coming up in my morning pages, with clients, and it’s the shimmering hum of the poems I’m working on.
It’s not a new word for me– it’s half of my long-standing mantra, Fierce & Tender, Tender & Fierce.
But it feels extra necessary right now.
Everyone I know is so tired.
Everyone I know is so raw.
Everyone I know is full of yearning.
Everyone I know is keening with grief.
And here come the holidays, with the promise of twinkly merriment but also with the screaming tornado of overwhelm– and did I mention that we are already exhausted and the world is on fire?
So please be so tender with yourself.
You’ve been really beautifully fierce for a long time. You had to be. Good job. I’m glad you did that. You probably had no choice.
But now is a season for tenderness.
Dearheart, let me tell you something so tender it’s squirmy. I wrote a book. A book about magic, a book for my children, a book that is brimming with heart and a kind of vulnerable earnestness that would be very easy to mock as sentimentality or treacle.
It’s called The Secret Society of Saint Nicholas.
Ironically, it took a lot of fierceness to birth this tender book.
It came out as a mama bear roar in me. It came out of a moment when I was full of rage and grief because I had just watched a light go out in my new child’s eyes.
It was a messy process, blending families, and one of the things that happened as our holiday traditions bumped together– though it was inevitable no matter what– was that a certain story about Santa came into question. A direct query was asked. An honest response was given.
And I could see that a terrible thing had just happened: something delicate flickered and went out right in my presence. I could see that this beloved child realized– thought– believed, horribly– that this meant there was no more magic in the world.
(I feel so bewildered and angered by this part of our culture— the whole world colludes, cries BELIEVE, there’s a flood of books and movies that buoy a fantasy that magic is real and someone will come through for every single kid and then— one day— we’re like Haha jk jk just kidding we were lying it’s all a sham, there’s no such thing as magic, we were all in on it, don’t you feel stupid and betrayed now?
Then we wonder why teens are jaded and angry. I mean.
This is just one small moment, but it can be an important one. It can be a rite of passage or it can crush something beautiful. And I think we owe our kids better than a holiday heartbreak.)
Anyway, so in that moment I wanted to cry out, “But wait! Magic IS real, even if that story was pretend!”
Because I do believe in magic. Deep magic. You can call it intuition, or healing, or kindness, or courage, or love– I get to watch those things at work, all the time, up close, in real people. Those forces are real. They are hard to explain. They are not make-believe.
So I went off and grabbed my journal and started scribbling. Angrily, at first, just processing my own helplessness, how much I wanted to get in there and FIX it with words and hugs, and how one million percent I knew that was NOT what that kid needed or wanted.
And after a while, I found myself writing a story in defense of magic. Explaining that “Santa” was a thin watered-down version of a deeper truth, which is that we are all meant to be openings for magic. And that a story about a guy who tied coins into some old socks and tossed them anonymously to hungry kids was more like a set of instructions than a promise.
It came from love, that primal combination of wild fierceness and utmost tenderness.
I bought a sketchbook, and wrote it out with a sharpie, and added some drawings, and then after hemming and hawing and feeling sheepish about it, I finally read it out loud to my kids.
It was kind of squirmy, honestly. It was kind of one of those moments when it’s so earnest it’s hard to bear it, and everyone holds their breath, and afterward you all sort of look at the ground and side-hug and shuffle around and then someone loudly asks if they can have some chocolate and you all breathe a sigh of relief. It was a little bit awkward and terrible and I was so, so, so glad I did it anyway.
You see, I get kind of squirmy when things really matter to me. I like to make jokes, roll my eyes, be witty and sparkly and just wink a secret little wink at the kindred spirits who feel me deep down even when I don’t spell it all out.
But there is a kind of tenderness that is so vulnerable it almost hurts. A kind of sincerity that requires immense courage.
That’s what it took for me to share this book with the world. It took some fierceness to say directly what I mean.
To say, All joking aside, I really care about this.
To say, I know this seems really normal but I actually think it’s hurting our kids.
To say, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever longed for magic– real magic.
To say, Look, here’s how I think we make our own.
Mmmmkay, anyway, so I wrote this book and clearly I’m a little squirmy about it so please be tender with me.
And please, dearheart, won’t you share it with your beloveds?
I made a whole page on my website about it, with links to buy it worldwide, and a video of me reading the whole thing so you know what you’re getting yourself into (or if you need it RIGHT NOW), and I’d be so grateful if you would share that page.
While you’re there, I wouldn’t hate it if you buy a copy for all the people you love, long before they think they need it. And tell your friend with the big Instagram following she should put it in her gift guide, and ask your cousin with the podcast if I can be on it, and text your friend who’s a journalist, and just generally do all those brave things that are so much easier to do for someone else than for ourselves. (I’m doing brave things too; but I could really use the quiet organic earthchanging magic of all of you telling your kindred spirits. It would mean the world to me.